If you’re new to the world of piano, or you are interested in beginning piano lessons for the very first time, then you might be worried that you have to have a certain type of hand (or fingers) to be able to play the piano effectively. In fact, there’s a chance that you’ve sat quietly in a room and wondered aloud: wait a second—do you need long fingers to play piano effectively? Am I already doomed before I’ve begin?
Well, in this article, I’m going to tackle this very subject. Is it true that you have to have “piano hands” in order to be successful playing this wonderful instrument? Or is this all a crazy myth that’s gotten far too out of control?
Well, let’s dive in to find out!
Do you need long fingers to play piano well?
Well, here’s the short and very quick answer: No, you do not need long fingers to be a good piano player. No one is going to tell you that you can’t play the piano well with small hands or short fingers, and if they do, you should probably take any piano advice they give you with a grain of salt. It has its advantages, sure, but there have been hundreds of outstanding pianists with small hands in this generation alone.
Trust me: I speak to you as someone with very small hands that has been playing piano nearly their whole life. Would it have been nice to have a handspan of nearly an octave and a half, like Rachmoninoff?
Here’s a graphic, if you’d like a visual, of just how different our handspans would be:
My hand span is in red, and Sergei Rachmoninoff’s, one of Russia’s most legendary pianists and composers, is in blue. I can barely manage an octave if I struggle, and he could easily span a thirteenth.
Of course, that’s going to be a bit of an advantage!
There’s an interesting infographic on handspans of some of the most famous classical pianists, if you want to determine your own handspan to see where you fall
Not everyone can have his massive hands though, and there are those with hands smaller than mine who are one hundred times better than me because of just a couple of things—practice and effort. Hand size is nothing next to the amount of effort you put into your craft.
Piano and Hand Size Advantages
Yes, there is an inherent advantage to having longer, slender fingers and bigger hands. One of the hardest things to master in piano is the concept of constant movement, especially in more difficult music—you’re constantly moving your hands to different positions, be it to play chords or to play winding, weaving melodies that lead you all over the keyboard.
It’s an instrument that forces you to readjust constantly. If you have bigger hands, your fingers automatically cover a bigger portion of the piano, and less movement is required. This makes it a little easier to learn.
Additionally, there are some monster chords in music that people with small hands just can’t play. With a handspan of barely an eighth, I could never play a chord written in the music that spans more than that unless I used my other hand. In most cases, my other hand would be busy playing something else, and that wouldn’t be an option.
I don’t say this to discourage you. An advantage is nothing more than that: just a little something that may be easier for someone else than it is for you. It is by no means a guarantee of success, nor does it mean that someone is going to have to put in less effort than you to learn things well.
Think of it like a sport. In volleyball, height is a definite advantage. It lets you block spikes over the net, puts more power behind your serves, and lets you cover the court faster.
However, between someone tall with no experience who doesn’t come to practice and someone shorter who puts in the time, effort, and extra drills every day, who can save any serve and pass with accuracy, I know who my top pick would be, and it wouldn’t be the person who’s just a little taller.
Is There a Disadvantage to Having Smaller Hands?
Not really. There’s a difference between not being able to do something and having to adjust a little bit, though.
One of the things that comes to mind when I think of my weaknesses is chords. Chords are groups of notes played together on one or both hands and are usually characterized by a specific set of notes played together or broken up.
Playing Piano Chords and Hand Size
Let’s look at an example:
This is a type of A minor chord. It requires four fingers and stretches over a tenth (ten keys). My handspan is only eight keys, so let me give you a couple of ideas on how I might play this.
1—Take off the top note
You could very easily take off the top note. All the essential notes for the chord (A, C, and E) are found in the bottom three notes of the chord, so taking off the additional E on top may take away a stylistic element, but it won’t take away from the actual music or intended chord progression.
It’ll look like this, which almost any beginner can play, and only spans a sixth:
Now, this won’t work for every chord, especially chords in which are four of five notes and all of them are different. You’ll start to see more of these as you progress, usually in the form of seventh chords, which are absolutely beautiful when used correctly.
2—Move or replace the note that’s hardest to reach.
If you don’t want to take away from the fullness of the sound, which can happen if you shave a note or two off a difficult chord, you can always move or replace the note that you can’t effectively reach.
For this example, what I would do is add another A on the bottom of the chord, as long as it sounds okay with the rest of the music. It’ll be more of a stretch, but it’ll maintain the fullness of the sound. It looks like this, spanning one octave (eight notes):
3—Break up the chord.
Broken chords are one of the most effective tools in music. They add elements of rhythm, soul, emotion, and more, depending on the method you use. They’re also a really nice trick for those of us who can’t play everything together.
The bottom line is that your fingers are a perfectly acceptable length to play the piano. I’m not really sure where or why it became a fad to associate long fingers with piano, but whether or not those with a certain hand type have an advantage, your practice and dedication are going to pay off much more than any innate or anatomical disposition.
Instead of thinking of a small handspan as a roadblock, think of it as an obstacle to be overcome—there are so many beautiful, innovative ways to get around big chords or melodies that stretch over the keyboard. You may find you like something better than how it’s written if you experiment enough!
So, the next time someone asks you “hey, do you need long fingers to play piano,” I hope you can confidently tell them no—no, you don’t. You just need more practice and a little bit of creativity!
Frequently Asked Questions
This article is a guest post by Isabelle.